Thursday, 24 May 2012

Winning the war in the kitchen: 3 tips to help busy parents cook more from scratch!

This is a guest post from Rachel at Well Worn Whisk: simple recipes and food writing.

My blog is about easy home cooking, featuring mainly recipes and the occasional food article. I'm an ex digital marketing communications person, now full-time mum to a toddler with another one on the way. I want to spread the joy of simple home cooking and even, maybe, inspire busy people to cook from scratch more! 

It has to be said, I have everything on my side when it comes to cooking: I’ve got time as I’m currently at home with my son and expecting another baby soon; I have experience as I’ve been cooking since I was about 10; I like to think I have knowledge, from years of reading cookbooks; and most of all I have a passion for the subject. The only thing I am sometimes lacking right now, being 7 months’ pregnant with a toddler, is energy. But aside from being tired I have no excuse not to cook from scratch most days. Yet I don’t. I sometimes order a takeaway. Or I eat cake for dinner, sometimes a bowl of cereal! Personally I don’t tend to eat ready meals, unless baked beans count, preferring to go for toast or something basic rather than processed. The point I am trying to make is that, if people like me who really love to cook can’t manage to do it from scratch every day, what chance do people who work full-time, have more than one child, and don’t even like (or know much about) cooking have?

I understand why people don’t cook from scratch, I really do get it; however, I still don’t see that as an excuse for never (ever) doing it, especially as a parent. It’s not OK, in my opinion, to give your family processed meals every single day, even if you are the worst cook in the world. Anyone with half a brain knows that there are benefits to home cooking: it’s likelier to be healthier, probably containing less salt and ‘bad’ fats. At the very least, when you cook from scratch you know what’s going into a dish. But aside from health benefits, you are setting a good example to your kids when you cook, so that hopefully they will feel inspired to cook too. And if you include them in the cooking process then you are spending quality time with them as well. There really is no argument that I can think of not to cook more - we all know we should do it, but that knowledge alone might not be enough to make us get the pans out and actually start cooking.

Cooking from scratch is easy, I firmly believe this. For most people the reason they don’t cook is down to a busy schedule and a lack of knowledge. I think you can overcome these problems by choosing the right recipes - but to do that you must have some decent ingredients in your cupboards, ready to be utilised when you need them. If you give yourself achievable ‘cook more’ targets you are more likely to be successful. For example, if you don’t cook at all from scratch at the moment, then aim to do it once a week. If you’d just like to cook a bit more, then why not aim to increase your repertoire by learning three simple and nourishing new recipes?

Here are 3 simple rules that might help in your efforts to cook more from scratch. They may seem obvious, but I really think they work!

            1 -   Do some batch cooking (your freezer is your friend)
Your time is a precious commodity and you need to use it wisely. It’s just as easy to make two lasagnes as one, so try doubling up when you’re cooking and freeze one lot of whatever you’re making (if it’s suitable). It’s so gratifying knowing that your freezer has a few standby dinners and desserts (as well as the odd packet of fish fingers) for occasions when you’re too tired or busy to cook. All you have to remember to do is take it out the day before!

Batch cooking recipe suggestions:
>> Easy, healthy and freezes well (spice it up or down depending on who’s eating): Hearty bean chilli
>> Almost foolproof dessert (freeze before cooking): Rhubarb and blueberry crumble

            2 - Put time aside at the weekend for some family cooking and eating
With parents coming home late from work and the priority being to eat something – anything - as quickly as possible the minute you get through the door, I totally get that weeknights might not be the best time to think about getting stuck into a new recipe. Making time at the weekend is a no brainer. There’s not many people who don’t have an hour or two to spare, whether that means getting up earlier or sacrificing another activity: what’s more important than your family’s health and happiness? I think the two best times for a spot of family cooking are a Saturday breakfast / brunch or a late Sunday lunch. I’ve suggested two recipes here.

Weekend cooking recipe suggestions:
>> A fun breakfast / brunch recipe (add bacon or blueberries for brunch): Healthy American style pancakes

            3.  Perfect an adaptable store cupboard recipe (or three)
There are some ingredients that you will almost always find in my cupboard: a tin of anchovies, tinned tomatoes, a bottle of capers, some extra virgin olive oil, and pasta of some sort, plus a head or two garlic. If I don’t have these in, I feel slightly panicked as it means I can’t make quite a few variations of my own go-to store cupboard dinners, which are mainly pasta. If you can master an easy recipe that you normally have the ingredients in for, then once every week or so (not so much that everyone gets sick of it!) you know you can knock up something good from scratch as the mood takes you. It might be a simple omelette with eggs and cheese and perhaps the addition of a vegetable like peppers or courgettes. This is the essence of good store cupboard cooking: you can make it with or without one or two of the ingredients. Here are two deceptively simple, adaptable store cupboard recipes that could be made even without the main vegetable ingredient.

Adaptable store cupboard recipe suggestions:
>> Surprisingly easy store cupboard supper (don’t let the word soufflĂ© put you off!): Leek, cheddar and penne soufflĂ©(eggy bake)

A quick note about fussy kids, as this can be a problem when trying new recipes (we’ve all been there). If you’re worried that your kids won’t eat new foods then my advice is to take it slowly. Start with foods that all kids like: fluffy pancakes with blueberries; homemade fish fingers; homemade chips and dips (search out simple recipes). Get them involved in the cooking, standing on stools breaking eggs, whisking batters, even slicing vegetables with your help - and then encourage them to watch their dinner come to life in the oven. Give lots of praise when eating it: “You’re so clever for making fish fingers with me, this is the best lunch I’ve had all week!” As they start to get more adventurous, try new more interesting recipes with them – you might be surprised. We should stop assuming that kids will only eat bland and uninteresting food – they have palettes too! Kids imitate their parents, so if you show enthusiasm for what you’re cooking and eating, they probably will do too.  


  1. Thanks for these great ideas. You are so right that letting kids help in the kitchen increases their enthusiasm for eating. It takes a bit of courage and patience to let them try things, but they absolutely love it. One thing that works well with my three year old is bringing everything down to floor level (I put a towel down first!) That way she can mix and pour without having to worry about balancing on a chair at the same time. Clean-up is also easier when you can just shove the dirty towel into the washing machine :)

  2. Creativas ideas. Im finding the toddler ave hardest for cooking. They want to be involved but just get in the way.


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